Nine Marines' Shared Property - Nicole Casey
My life might have been a mess, but when I’d get up early, walk down to the cafe I owned, set up the terrace and the lounge and start baking, it seemed like everything was being put into place. I loved seeing the place full of customers. Of course, I was happy for the cafe’s growing popularity. But in the early morning, when it was completely empty and I could arrange the tables and the plants the way I wanted them, that’s when I felt I was in control; that’s when my life had peace and comfort—the calm before the storm, in more ways than one.
I’d always start by baking cinnamon rolls. I loved the way the cafe smelled after a batch of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. And by the time I’d started on the muffins, the first customers would come in—always too early.
“Good morning. That smells fantastic.”
My first customer was a young man, clean-shaven, wearing an impeccably pressed suit to match his impeccable posture. Most likely from the military base. Much of my clientele were from the base.
I tucked the loose strands of hair behind my ears, straightened my apron and offered him a smile. “You’ve got perfect timing,” I said. “I’ve just pulled them out of the oven.”
I tugged on the hem of my apron. Nervous habit. I was running my very own successful cafe and bakery, but with that hunk standing there in front of me, I felt like an awkward schoolgirl.
“Perfect,” he said. And his eyes fell from the chalkboard menu down to meet mine. I literally quivered and had to grab hold of the counter not to fall over. “I’ll have one, please. And an espresso.”
I nodded but didn’t move more than that. I think when a customer orders a cinnamon roll and an espresso, they expect that I’d turn to the espresso machine or plate out a roll. But I just stood there smiling.
He smiled back.
Fortunately, before things could get too awkward, Jenny came rushing in. “Hi, Gwen. I’m sorry I’m late.” She hurried around the counter, already in mid-morning rush form.
I turned from the customer and greeted her. “Good morning, Jenny.”
She let out an exasperated breath and shook her head. “Traffic.”
“No worries.” I glanced at the clock. Only two minutes late. “You’re actually right on time for our first customer of the day.” I turned back to the customer and forgot what I was going to say or what he’d ordered or if he’d even ordered at all.
Jenny took his order again. Unlike me, she immediately went into action to complete it.
“Well, I think I’ll head back in the kitchen,” I said. I smoothed out my apron. “Get started on the brownies.” I looked back at the customer just in case he wanted to stop me. Perhaps he wanted to grab me and say, ‘No, don’t go. Throw off your apron. I’m taking you to Hawaii in my private jet.’ But he simply nodded and smiled.
I stayed in the kitchen for the better part of the morning. Even after ten months on the job, I still melted every time a hot guy would come in—and in San Diego, that happened often. Jenny and Christy worked in the front of the house.
Initially, I’d thought I could get by with only one employee a shift, but with three of us working, we created a more relaxed convivial atmosphere. Jenny’s the no-nonsense one of the crew. Even though I’m technically the boss, she’s the one who keeps us in line. Christy is the ‘wild one’. She keeps things from getting too serious.
Christy popped into the kitchen. “The apple tarts are a big success.”
I looked at her suspiciously out of the corner of my eyes. Christy never led with what was really on her mind. “Good to know,” I said. “I’ll have to prepare more next time.”
“Do you need a hand cleaning up?” she asked.
I’d gotten into the good habit of cleaning while I baked, so when the baking was all finished, I never had much clean-up to do. “No, thanks,” I said. “I’ve got it covered. Why? Is it slow out there?”
“No. It’s actually quite busy.” She smiled mischievously. “But I knew you’d say you didn’t need a hand back here. Which means you can come out front.”
“Is there a problem?”
“I’d say so.” She gave me her patented head tilt with the raised eyebrows. “You’re back here in the kitchen while Self-Help Hunk is sitting alone on the terrace.”
Christy had a name for all our regular customers—the